To migrate to new control system or not

Author: Asif A. khokher (Innovasys Engineering & Systems)

Whether to migrate to new process control system and de-commission the existing one; is a question asked by many plant owners. It is not only a matter of cost but lot of human resources and time is required to accomplish this successfully. Migrating to a new platform whether it is same OEM/vendor or new, is a question to be answered by the persons working for the plant.
If this question is asked to vendors/sellers, then no one answer would be obtained. New seller would provide arguments in the favor of new platform. He will first focus on the disadvantages of the existing system and may argue following in favor of the migration

- Parts will eventually become obsolete and not supported by the OEM.
- Degrading parts of the system will tend to increase the failures and add-in hazards to your facility.
- Increasing failures will divert your resources to resolve these issues instead of focusing on improvement.
- New Platform will be free from above issues and your people may rather focus on leveraging new features of the new platform to optimize the performance of the plant.
- New platform will bring more processing speed, open architecture and integration would be easier. It would be easier to learn the new platform and modifications /additions could be done without the immediate support of the vendor. This will also be crucial factor during emergency phase if encountered.
- New features of the new platform will bring more power in the controlling and optimizing the process. Yes, it is expensive, but power/cost remains the same.

On the other hand, OEM of the existing system would argue:

- Few of the critical older parts may be changed with the new versions which are more reliable. In general, Integrity of these parts is proven in the industry so trustable.
- Improved version of the software(s) would bring additional features which would help engineers control their process better and get more optimization.
- No new training is required. Hence, resources may focus on optimizing the existing technologies and facilities rather learning new technologies in case of new platform costing lot of additional money for the plant owner. Operators too will be happy with the continuity of the existing platform.

So, what is the decision, to migrate or not to ? Following would aid additionally in deciding this:

- How new platform would help in optimizing the process and increase the production in quantity and quality ?
- Does the new platform help control system operator manage it more efficiently in the control room ?
- Does the new platform would help increase system reliability and reduce risk of hazard? Does process safety management would be more efficient ?
- Does the new vendor provide better mechanism of after –sales support ?
- Does inventory management would be more efficient in the new platform ?
- Does the online diagnostics and performance data of the system including field instruments would be available in the new platform ?
- What level of effort would be required from different departments i.e operations, maintenance, engineering, management, safety etc in migrating to new platform ?
- Does the new platform provide better life cycle cost as compared to the legacy system ? Installation & commissioning cost normally is high of the new system, however, operating and maintenance cost may reduce the expenses.

It is decision of the plant user whether to migrate or not to migrate. In both cases, efforts are required. Cost of installation and commissioning may not be high as compared to production revenues, however, systematic decision and implementation of the decision is necessary to reduce the risks.

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